House budget talks to open on gloomy note


POSTED: Thursday, February 26, 2009

State Rep. Marcus Oshiro, House Finance Committee chairman, calls it a “;time for shared sacrifice.”;

The state Legislature is set to open a series of budget hearings today that will decide how the state deals with a budget downturn of $865 million.

The hearings, which open at 10 a.m. in the House Finance Committee, will handle proposals for cutting the state school budget, raising taxes, adjusting other taxes and perhaps taking tax money from the counties.

“;The basic thing is shared sacrifice,”; Oshiro said in an interview yesterday. “;I will look at cuts in the budget, look at bills that repeal existing tax credits, change some of the income tax provisions.

“;It will touch just about every household,”; Oshiro warned.

Although he would not give details on the eventual fate of all those bills, Oshiro says he is considering recommending that state income taxes be increased for those making more than $200,000 a year, while providing large tax relief for the middle class.

Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho) is also considering adjusting or phasing out tax deductions or exemptions such as the one enjoyed by “;mutual benefit societies”; such as the Hawaii Medical Service Association.

Also being considered are suggestions to take money given every year from the federal tobacco settlement to the University of Hawaii medical school and the cancer research center, Oshiro said.

“;We will see how far and how deep we can cut the budget,”; Oshiro warned.

Also up for possible cuts are school programs that, while popular, are not part of the core curriculum, he said.

“;I talked to (schools Superintendent) Pat Hamamoto, and we said if we have to make cuts, let's make cuts that make sense, look at the core services of the school,”; Oshiro said.

He said the Finance Committee would look at possible reductions in school programs such as “;band, sports, student government, debate and art programs.”;

“;Don't get me wrong, I am as much an advocate for these programs as anyone else, but we need to focus on what is core and make those hard choices,”; Oshiro said.

Other budget-cutting ideas, such as reducing public employee salaries or benefits, will not be handled by the Finance Committee, Oshiro said.

The state attorney general's office prepared a memo for the Legislature saying that it “;wasn't very certain about the legal standing”; of furloughing employees, Oshiro said.

Also, there was a fear that any attempt at furloughing public workers would result in a series of lawsuits, so Oshiro said that is not being included in the budget mix.